Claudia wasn’t in her dorm when Jamie called. She came back from class to find the little folded piece of paper from a phone message in her message slot, and, hoping it was a message from John, quickly snatched it and claimed a phone cubicle. Opening it she heaved a sigh of disappointment. The note, in Kathy’s looping script, simply read “Call Jamie.”
Briefly, Claudia considered putting it off. She had just talked to him last weekend when she called home, and would see him in another two weeks when they met up for their quarterly visit to Mrs. Frankweilier. Then again, maybe something had come up to change their plans. Resignedly she dug into her purse for the stash of quarters she kept reserved for phone calls. The quarter stash had been Jamie’s idea, or rather his decree, after she hadn’t been able return his call once during her first semester because she had spent all of her quarters.
Inserting a quarter into the slot she quickly dialed home, crossing her fingers that Jamie would be the one to answer the phone. Unlucky for her Kevin that picked up. It took two minutes of her ten before Kevin finally shouted for Jamie. Claudia kept track on the clock on the wall outside the phone cubicle so that she could charge Kevin for the wasted time when she got home: two cents for every minute he wasted. She was already up to ten cents since she had last been home and was hopeful that it would be a whole quarter by winter break.
“Hey Claude.” Dread pooled in Claudia’s stomach. Jamie’s voice was horse, like he had been crying.
“Jamie. What’s going on?” Claudia asked cautiously.
“It’s Mrs. Frankweiler.” Jamie’s voice hitched. “She’s dead.”
The dread in Claudia’s stomach solidified into a cold hard knot.
“Grandpa came over this morning. Said he was her lawyer, that we needed to come to the will reading. Said for you to take the train after your last class tomorrow and he’d pick you up at the station.” Jamie pause for a second, and when he resumed his voice was closer to normal. “She went quietly,” he said, “went to bed and just never woke up. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And before Claudia could say anything he hung up.
Claudia sat there a moment, her breath shuddering in her chest. Then, with one last deep breath, she collected herself and returned to her room to make plans. After all, she had always been good at planning.
Claudia stepped into the Metropolitan Museum of Art and allowed herself a moment. It felt like a homecoming. In the future she would enter through the side employee entrance, but on her first day as an intern she came through the same entrance she and Jamie had used ten years previously. She joined a group of other new interns milling about just inside the entrance and looked around, cataloguing the changes. The biggest difference was the sign out front listing the entrance fees; it would take a lot more than twenty-four dollars and forty three cents to hide away in the museum now.
After ten minutes a museum employee came and took them away to the administrative parts of the museum, places considerably less glamorous than anything she and Jamie had seen. They were processed through, filling out paperwork, getting badges, learning all of the rules (oh, how many they had broken!). They ate lunch in the snack bar with groups of school children, Claudia the whole time smiling at all the secrets filling her everywhere she looked.
Finally the group of new interns was deemed sufficiently oriented and let free to roam the museum for the last ten minutes before close. Claudia headed straight for the door, brushing past groups planning what exhibits they would visit or what bar they were going to after the museum closed.
Back up in the main part of the museum, she headed unerringly toward the Italian Renaissance. At the bottom of the stairs, in the same place as ten years ago, Angel sat atop a pedestal draped with a blue velvet cloth. The plaque under it was new, though the copper was already somewhat tarnished with age, and detailed the extensive debate as to the statue’s provenance. Claudia smiled, for the plaque made no mention of a sketch and a letter, which were placed securely in a safety deposit box in Connecticut.
They had been married for just over a year when John nearly discovered her secret. While Claudia had learned a great deal about money since she ran away, part of that was knowing when it was better to let John handle it. He was doing just that one evening when he came into the kitchen with a paper in his hand while Claudia was cooking dinner.
“Claude, do you know anything about this safe deposit box?”
Claudia dried her hands and took the papers from him. It was the documents for the safe deposit box she had gotten to store the sketch, since Jamie hadn’t been old enough to get one at the time. They had always meant to put Jamie’s name on the box as well, since he had half ownership of the sketch in it, but they had simply never gotten around to it.
“It’s got some documents that a … family friend left Jamie and I. It should really be in his name as well.” Claudia tried to seem off-hand about it. She knew Jamie planned to share the secret with Ellen if they ever married, but she had never wanted to share it with anyone, even John. Even after all of these years it made her different, gave her a thrill whenever she thought about what she knew that no one else did (well, except Jamie, but he didn’t count).
She smiled up at John with what she hoped was an offhand expression.
“If you leave it on my desk I’ll take care of it.” John raised his eyebrows, but let it be. The next day Claudia went to the bank and added Jamie’s name to the box, then placed the papers at the bottom of her jewelry box. It never came up again.
Hitching Patrick higher on her hip, Claudia waited impatiently in the admissions line. In front of her Jamie held Marissa’s hand and his wife Ellen held little Emily. Next to her John listened patiently as Rebecca rattled on a mile a minute about the different exhibits she had learned about in school that they would see today.
Rebecca had been the impetus for the trip, but it was also an anniversary of sorts. It had been twenty-five years since Claudia and Jamie had run away and lived for a week in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a mother now Claudia could appreciate the distress she had caused her parents in a way she had not then. At the same time she did not regret it, could not regret the secret that shaped her life.
As they wandered the museum, she saw Jamie lean in to whisper to Ellen near the Egyptian tomb, and again at the large bed where they’d spent their nights. During lunch in the restaurant Jamie made a quip about how well the museum must be doing to be able to get by without the fountain and Claudia laughed. John looked at her askance, and Ellen rolled her eyes, but Claudia just smiled; waved it off and told a story about the fountain from her time as an intern.
At last they ended up in the Italian Renaissance exhibit and the family gathered around Angel. Rebecca stood reading the plaque, which Claudia had long since memorized as an intern. Looking up from the plaque to her mother, Rebecca asked, “Do you think it was really made by Michaelangelo, Mama?”
“Yes, I do Rebecca.” Claudia replied confidently.
“But how can you be sure?” Rebecca complained. Claudia looked at Jamie and smiled.
“That is my secret.”